As a therapist, one of the first conversations I often to have with individuals involves the question of how one copes with the intense emotions experienced in the face of difficult situations. Often, people refer to their distractions as ways of coping; however, those are different. Distractions allow us to focus our full attention on things other than our emotions, while coping strategies help us acknowledge, accept and stay within our difficult emotions. Sometimes this helps us move through an emotional experience quite quickly, while other coping strategies force us to be emotional for some time. Below, I’ve compiled a list of what seem to be the top coping strategies for teenagers and adults and why they work!

Talking: Giving words to our situation can be cathartic. Dr. Dan Siegel states that we need to “name it to tame it”, meaning, that if we are able to identify our emotions, and further, to share out loud our emotional experience, that is the first step in helping gather our emotions back into a manageable state.

Drawing and other art: Humans have a need to be creative. The process of creating art can be an experience that impacts mental health. This might be partially due to the idea that creating art stimulates many areas of the brain to create new neural connections, and research shows that this may occur in areas that ultimately lead to more emotional resilience.

Writing/Journalling: Writing has many healing benefits, so many, that I’ve written entire blog post dedicated to the positive effects of writing. Putting our story to paper can provide clarity, can allow for letting go, and can inspire hope.

Breathing: Sometimes this is one of the simplest things that we can do. Taking deep breaths into the diaphragm helps infuse the body with oxygen, which creates a calming effect on both the physical body and in the mind. This is because deep breathing helps reduce cortisol levels in our bodies.

Music: Brain studies show that when we listen to some music, the blood flow in our brain changes, particularly in the area of the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. These areas are important for logical reasoning, and in the case of the amygdala, our emotions. Music can directly influence the way we feel and the way we think.

Exercise: Research shows that exercise can be just as effective as antidepressants in managing symptoms of depression, like exhaustion, sadness, and low motivation. Daily exercise may work over time by increasing our levels of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter implicated in depression.

Actively introducing positive thoughts: When our emotions are difficult, our thoughts tend to become negative. It takes practice and conscious thought to be able to actively introduce positive thoughts into our thinking. One way to do this is to name your thinking traps and find ways to respond to these thoughts.

Changing up your surroundings: Sometimes switching the environment we are in can be helpful. Often the change is subtle, like moving out of your bedroom and into another room. Sometimes the change is more drastic, like rearranging furniture in your living room.

Taking a step back, taking a break: This is especially helpful when our difficult emotions are stemming from relationships. Taking a step back from the relationship, either with physical distance or mental distance, can help us find room to problem solve.

Communicating your needs: It takes skill to be able to recognize what we need, and more hard work to communicate these needs to those in our lives. Perhaps you need an hour of me-time, maybe you want to say “no” to an upcoming social event, or maybe it is important to tell a family member you’ve been hurt by their actions. Communicating your needs assertively helps you to not only get what you need, but can help with self-esteem and feeling accomplished.

Using coping strategies when our emotions seem to be out of control can help bring them back to being regulated again. Moreover, coping strategies, when used over time, can help make changes that increase our ability to become resilient in the face of life events.  Remember, you got this.


20181009_113447Erin Newman is a therapist by day, and a writer by night. She is also a parent, student, advocate, artist, and teacher.

The notion of “inspiration” is exciting, romantic and, well, inspiring. Our mythologies of creativity tell us that the right synchronicity of circumstances will spark not only The Idea that will change everything, but the will and ability to execute it. In reality, sitting around waiting for inspiration to “strike” is about as effective as waiting for actual lightning to strike and start your campfire. Inspiration can be cultivated and sought out, though.

Creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum, no matter how much consistent work and practice one puts in. It is the encounters and experiences that excite, intrigue and teach us that generate and motivate creativity. Sudden, striking ideas do happen – but they don’t come out of nowhere, they are the result of a long-simmering idea suddenly coalescing as the last piece falls into place. To be creative, go out into the world and seek out inspiration. This can take any form you like, from getting back to the land and nature, to delving into works of philosophy for new ideas. Inspiration is all the little pieces of life that keep you motivated and keep you thinking until The Idea finally coalesces (or, more likely, is finally forced into being like molding a stiff piece clay.)

Do not shy away from engaging with others’ works of creativity as a source of inspiration. Far from tainting the authenticity of your creative expression with influence, others’ art can be a great source of inspiration. Most peoples’ original inspiration to become a writer, artist or any other creative was probably someone else’s work. Don’t be afraid to revisit that original inspiration in times of low motivation.

Art exists to provoke emotional and intellectual responses and to expose new ideas and perspectives, all of which are the essence of inspiration. In a sense, art is a short cut to inspiration! Whatever kind of creative you are, try to be open to what all kinds of creativity can teach you – visual art, performance, music, literature, digital arts….

A risk of relying on others’ art to inspire you in periods of low motivation and inspiration is that witnessing the peak of others’ creative process may stir up insecurity and fear. The doubting voice inside might just say “Well I can’t do that, so why bother…” The gulf between where you see yourself and where you want to be may become stark and intimidating. Remember that inspiration is also about learning. Look at work that you admire, or consider “better” than yours, as something to learn from rather than envy. What is it that you see in that work that seems to be missing from your work and how can you develop that missing piece? What technique and craft does that artist use that you can learn? If inadequacy and fear clouds inspiration, focus on learning and honing your craft.

Creativity requires consistent work, but it also needs to be nurtured with inspiration. Fortunately, creatives do not need to passively await inspiration: they can go out and find it. Part of the work of creativity is spending time immersed in others’ creativity, looking for the little pieces that will build and motivate your own.

 


IMG_20180718_115103_621Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Programming and Engagement Coordinator at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

In Theravadan Buddhism, there’s a form of meditation wherein practitioners allow thoughts to enter their minds and dwell there free of judgement. The thought – no matter how potentially upsetting or disturbing – may be calmly turned over, investigated, and conversed with. It may go, or it may stay – either way, the thought is not understood as threatening. It is a part of the learning process.

It is amazing how effective this style of meditation is for untangling webs of anxiety and processing complex emotional issues. Removing the cloud of judgement, and all the fear that accompanies it, allows for the freedom necessary to properly work through difficult issues.

Maybe it should be unsurprising, then, that writing often has the same effect.

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I have found myself, countless times, writing about feelings I didn’t know I had. Thoughts I didn’t know I thought. I have watched, in semi-disembodied disbelief, as my hands seemed to work on their own accord, giving shape to my unconscious.

It is an unsettling experience to sit down intending to write about a specific thing and instead find yourself scribbling unstoppably about things you’ve never thought about. There’s a strange conflict, where your conscious brain struggles to take back control but your bodily unconscious – perhaps because of the writing muscle’s refusal to leave a sentence unfinished, perhaps because your conscious brain is so mesmerized by the novelty of what it is reading – remains in control.

It is a special thing. We so often try to ignore our unconscious. But in the face of a pen that doesn’t judge and a blank sheet of paper, we can engage with ourselves. Our truths can come spilling out and we can read them back.

There is more to the human experience than reason and restraint. Writing has always allowed people to create new worlds; discovering them is not always just for the reader.


rachaelRachael Heffernan recently completed a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies at the University of Alberta. In the course of her academic career, she has received the Harrison Prize in Religion and The Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship. During her undergraduate degree, Rachael was published twice in The Codex: Bishop University’s Journal of Philosophy, Religion, Classics, and Liberal Arts for her work on Hittite divination and magic and philosophy of religion. Rachael has also had the opportunity to participate in an archaeological dig in Israel, and has spoken at a conference on Secularism at the University of Alberta on the Christian nature of contemporary Western healthcare. Her wide-ranging interests in scholarship are complemented by her eclectic extra-curricular interests: she is a personal safety instructor and lifelong martial artist who has been recognized for her leadership with a Nepean Community Sports Hero Award. She is an enthusiastic reader, writer, and learner of all things, a tireless athlete, and a passionate teacher.

This article was written by blogger, Maddie Laberge, of The Wicked Step-Mom.

What the hell does Hygge (pronounced Hue-gah) mean?

First, let me ask you 5 quick questions to make sure Hygge is a good fit for you:

  1. Are you emotionally burnt out? (You’re on my last nerve, kid!)
  2. Does it seem that no matter how hard you try to keep your house clean, the dishes, laundry, and chores just never seem to get under control!! (Fold your own fucking laundry!)
  3. Are you having a small problem transitioning from the long bright summer days to the 4:30 p.m. sunset? (I go to work in the dark, I drive home in the dark. Does the sun still rise every day?)
  4. You were so jazzed about your big salads and smoothies all spring and summer, but now the cold leafy greens and frigid drinks aren’t cutting it. (Where can I get a hot cup of java around here, yo?)
  5. Can you relate to this: “It is not your body or your mind that is ailing. It is your soul that is in need of healing.”

Have you had enough busy, mindless days pass you by? Yeah? Me too.

Hygge is a Danish word that describes a genuine mood or a feeling. It is choosing not to be distracted. In a nutshell, it’s waking up with new eyes to see simplicity as both cozy and meaningful: being conscious of the present moment and shaping it into an art. You can live your life creating soul-satisfying rituals!  Tell me, who can’t use a little soul nurturing now and then?

So let’s cut to it and give you 5 easy ways to create some magic:

  1. Do you have your own space? A cozy chair? A place where you like to sit and read or watch a movie? Even just the corner on your couch would work! Warm it up with a beautiful soft throw blanket. (Cost of blanket $20-30 IKEA)

Here’s my dog Quinn keeping my chair warm for me. Snuggle in with your favourite pet or partner and just bask in the moment of love!

cozythrowblanket
Don’t let that face fool you, she’s a spoiled brat.
  1. Bundle up and take a walk! Nature’s anti-depressant! Get off your phone (and your ass), grab your camera and take some pictures of nature! Be mindful of the smell in the air. Now is also a good time to take the advice of one of my kids: “Just think about what you want to think about, not what other people want you to think about.” Here’s a picture of me from a little solo adventure to a ravine near my house. (Cost FREE!)

takeawalk

  1. Buy a book shelf. Put things you love on it. Don’t let it get cluttered. Then curl up in your cozy throw blanket and read a good book! Here’s a cross-section of what I read:

books

Diversify and read whatever you’re in the mood for! I usually choose something that makes me ponder my existence or something that makes me laugh; sometimes they are one in the same. (Cost of book shelf $35 IKEA, and books are cheap at second-hand stores.)

bookshelf

  1. Do you own a lamp? Fantastic! Start using it to create some ambiance in your home.

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Note the box of tissues in the picture? Give yourself one night every month to watch a romantic movie and cry your eyes out. Ok, crying ain’t exactly what ‘hygge’ is all about, but being at peace is, and you know what crying can do? Release stress hormones! So have yourself a big ugly cry! I suggest classic tear-jerkers like ‘The Bridges of Madison County’, or ‘The Notebook’. Whatever works to release those tears with the intention of feeling refreshed afterwards! (Cost: FREE!)

  1. Last, but certainly not lease, soft luxurious flannel sheets to keep you warm at night!

flannelsheets

Climbing into a cozy bed, taking a deep breath and counting three things you’re grateful for will help lull you into a peaceful slumber. And get your stupid phone out of your room! (Cost of Flannel Sheets: $40 on sale in the summer.)

So the next time you feel your day is becoming hectic and stressful, think hygge! How will YOU create some hygge in your day today?


Maddie Laberge is the mastermind behind The Wicked Step-Mom – a 30-something year old woman who has been a Certified Holistic Nutritionist for nearly ten years (more recently a Certified Herbalist), and a full time step-mom for over three. So what does a woman who chased a career do once three kids get handed to her? She shifts gears and begins a new journey. Her blog is about life and how she gets through her days by holding on to the values of eating good food and living a simple life.